A TEENAGE tap dancer who was diagnosed with leukaemia just days after becoming a world champion feared he would never dance again. 

Jude Feltham, who trains with Tap Attack in Swindon, was just 12 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. It left him too weak to move and with two spinal fractures. 

But despite receiving daily chemotherapy, Jude refused to give up on his dream of becoming a dancer and has since been selected to represent Great Britain again. 

Now, the 14-year-old is sharing his story to launch Dorset’s Stand Up To Cancer campaign and hopes to inspire people to get sponsored to stand up all day. 

Jude said: “I spent a couple of months in a wheelchair and several weeks on crutches and I thought I’d never dance again. I didn’t want to hear any of the music I had danced to or watch any of the videos. I just thought, ‘What if everything I trained for has gone out of the window?”

Jude had received his diagnosis just a few days before Christmas.

Boo Feltham, Jude’s mum, said: “It all happened very quickly. After 4 months of training every weekend with Tap Attack, Jude came back from the World Championships in Germany at the end of November 2019 having won a gold and bronze medal. We were all so proud of him. 

“A few days later we went to pick our Christmas tree. Jude suddenly felt a bit poorly and said he couldn’t walk anymore, and he just collapsed. I knew something wasn’t right so the next day my husband Tony took him to the doctor who told us it was probably just a bad virus.

“He went back to school a week later and when he came home, he went straight to the sofa and fell asleep, still in his coat.”

The next morning, Jude said his ankle hurt, which was red and had blotchy marks. 

Boo added: “I took him straight to A&E where they took bloods and mentioned it could be some form of osteoporosis. All I could think about then was how it would affect his dancing. I was completely oblivious at this point that it could be anything more serious.

“The next day was December 18 and the consultant who was on duty, was someone we knew. He took Jude and me into another room. I thought it was because Jude was a bit older than the other children on the ward and he wanted to give him some privacy. He was talking to Jude about his blood results and explaining about white blood cells and then he said, ‘the term for this condition is ‘leukaemia’.’

“I was fully aware at this point that leukaemia was a form of cancer. My eyes were full up trying to hold it together because I didn’t want to upset Jude. I just thought, ‘I can’t fall apart’. If he saw me panic, he would panic.

“The doctor asked Jude if he had any questions, and he responded with, “Will I be able to dance again?” It was heartbreaking.”

The doctors told the family there would be several phases of treatment.

“They told us that the first month would be horrific, the next six months intense but a little easier, and then another two years and nine months of maintenance after that,” Boo said.

“Jude found the length of the treatment really hard to take and said, ‘I can’t stop my life for three years.’ But I just said, ‘We’re on a detour and then we’ll be back on track. We’ve got to see it through. It’s just a bump in the road and we have to get over it.’ 

“In the early days both Tony and I had moments when we thought of the worst-case scenario and kept thinking, ‘What if?’ Then we realised we couldn’t waste our energy on that. We needed to focus on making sure Jude got better and ensure that we were there for the rest of our family too.”

Boo and Tony were keen to try to make Christmas as special as they could for all the family, including his older brother Gabe and younger sister Nell. 
The mum said: “At night one of us would stay in hospital with Jude whilst the other would go home and wrap presents into the early hours of the morning and prepare and cook Christmas dinner to take to the hospital so that we could make the Christmas Day as normal and special as possible. 

“It’s definitely a Christmas we will never forget. The staff were all amazing, they really went all out.”

Boo said they were concerned about a side effect of the chemo called ‘foot drop’.

She added: “It can cause your feet to become floppy and drag when you walk, and this can be quite a common problem, so we had to keep an eye on that.

“The turning point came one day, when Jude could hear Nell, who is also a tap dancer, practising in the other room. She was getting something wrong, so he got on his crutches and tried to tell her how to do it. Eventually he put his tap shoes on again for the first time since his diagnosis and it was such a heart-warming moment. It gave us a glimmer of hope that one day he might wear them to dance again properly.”

Despite being too unwell to perform yet, Jude was invited to be dance captain at his dance school in Dorset, to help advise on the performances ahead of their show in February 2020.

Boo said: “It made him feel valued within the dance school, even though he wasn’t on stage he was still able to make a good contribution. At the dress rehearsal, he watched in the morning, went off at lunchtime to have chemo in Poole Hospital and was back in the afternoon to give feedback. 

“He wouldn’t have been well enough for the auditions for GB in the summer of 2020 but with everything being put back because of Covid, it fitted around his treatment. He had just moved onto the next phase, ‘maintenance’, which gave him the time to choreograph himself a routine, practise, record and submit it and he was selected for GB again, for a trio and this time as a soloist too.”

Jude said: “It was really hard at first, I could only manage about 10 minutes at a time.

But now I just feel really happy that the one thing I really want to do, I can do again. And I just love being around all my friends at dance and at school. My mates have all been amazing.  They support me and are always backing me up and making me feel good.” 

Jude still has 17 months of treatment left and he has chemo everyday. 

He said: “If you’re ever told bad news, don’t give up and instantly think that nothing is possible. If you put the effort in and believe it can happen, there is always a possibility it will.”

Now Jude is hoping that others will also dig deep by backing Stand Up To Cancer, the joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4. People are being encouraged to stand up all day - or for as long as they can - on Friday, October15, when the campaign will culminate with a glittering night of live TV on Channel 4.